Life Erupts…In Tragedy and in Joy!

Monday starts with rapid-fire, that unfortunately is not restricted to symbolism or favor or benefit.

We live in the Austin area. With a couple of interruptions to serve in interim ministries in the Seattle area, we’ve been here since 1997. I’ve always enjoyed the phrase “Keep Austin Weird.” Was told before moving that the character and culture of Austin was a “good fit.”

Today I’m not so sure. And yet, why should Austin be any different? Last night another bomb went off. This happened because two bicyclists hit a trip wire. They were injured but not killed. That’s the 4th incident of a bomb destroying the lives of people. The first three were very evidently loaded with racial intent. Two African/Americans and one Hispanic were victims. So dreadful. Racism cannot be hidden.

Then, I read this morning that an Oregon judge has been suspended for three years without pay because he refused to solemnize a gay couple. I consider that a sign of fairness and justice. And, as referenced many times, the two most negative forces in our county [not to exclude across the world] are racism and homophobia. To quote a friend, I hate both with a perfect hatred. Well, close to it.

With that three very positive realities, which says to me that life, whether we wish or not, is a constant balancing act. Yeah for Jason. He will be transferred tomorrow to the final rehab step before he returns to our home. This is a residency that works primarily with brain injury patients. It’s a miracle, folks. THANKS BE TO GOD…and THANKS BE TO each of you for your prayers, asking God to be a healing presence. We are grateful, especially Jason. His new day has the promise of brightness, so he can embrace life and not be fearful of health challenges. Oh, they’ll still be there, but this journey, since January 7 with the hematoma removal, is a date that began the troubles.

Then, in a personal surprise, I mean that fully, I was able to complete Tricia’s seventh adventure last night, “Living Without Arms.” Will take plenty of time to get it edited, so the verbiage and connecting work well. This novel takes me in a new direction, for Nathan and Tricia, now a married couple serving in a partnered ministry, become pregnant. Their obstetrician tells them their child will be born without arms. Oh, my. A whole new life journey.

So. Monday morning. Life, death, mayhem, goodness, projects. And, as Creighton Yale says [he’s the best friend and mentor to Tricia and Nathan], “it’s not good enough to live in the now. You must also live in the know.”

I hope that happens for each of us. And personally next week when I’m in Portland, gathering with high school graduates from the Jefferson High School Class of 1958, some of whom we haven’t seen each other for 60 years, I won’t weigh the same. But, maybe. That won’t be the focus!!!

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Judgment Anyone?

Up front: For sure I do not write with authority…and perhaps not even a scribe. Hopefully, though, this isn’t blathering prattle.

The issue is judgment. Ours upon others. Others upon us. Life upon us. Ours upon life. And, what about God and judgment?

All my life, even from an evangelism rally in the 8th grade I was aware of genuine and urgent thinking that “God punishes if you don’t live faithfully.”

I’ve done it. When something untoward happens to me my first “inside question,” is what did I do wrong? How did I mess up? If I had gone right instead of left at that crossroads, would this bad thing not happened?

That’s human. But. When we make that self-prescriptive, we are in trouble. Because then, quite honestly, our self-wondering becomes a habit and whatever we do we don’t ask, “Is this the best way to be of help?” Instead we ask, “If I do this, will I be okay?”

I cannot change that with others. I can, though, with myself, and honestly, the effort has not waned over the decades in what I do or say or don’t do or don’t say.

The fulcrum of that is not I. No. The fulcrum is my understanding of God. I don’t hold allegiance to the biblical narrative when it reads how the sin of humankind angers God so that colossal disaster happens. To be direct, I don’t consider Katrina God’s judgment against anyone, let alone homosexuals. As was pronounced with wrathful words from clergy.

It’s all got to do with God, my understanding, and my focus, which I am still constructing, to have my life “discover and do what I can to walk the talk in reducing the needs of others.”

Directly, this paragraph this morning brings me comfort and abiding belief. From Tom Ehrich on the place of God and my living:

“God, you see, never stops wanting to draw us closer. There is nothing we can do that will turn God’s love to hatred. People want to find that boundary, because staffing it can lead to power. But God’s mercy has no limits. The only limits lie within us. It is we who punish ourselves. God is trying to show us a better way.”

What do you think? What guides and strengthens your life? Tell me about your God…

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Bob Ball, my guide of guides in Forks, Washington, and I floated the Sol Duc River. It was my second cast…bobber down, a mild uptake on my rod, the river splashed, then exploded and the battle was on. A beautiful fresh winter steelhead, brighter than bright. Released because it was a wild/native steelhead. The day continued and the bobber-down happened six more times. Ah, seven’s a good number.

Then the next day, Zorba [Oregon’s best steelhead and salmon guide] joined me for our 5th annual fishing adventure with Bob. We fished two rivers, the Bogeschiel and the Calawah. A number of bobber-downs and fish released. It then happened. The preface to “it happened” is I’ve fished for winter steelhead for over 50 years. Toward the end of our float on the Calawah, my bobber-down happened. The hook was set and the battle on. ALMOST at the very same moment Zorba’s bobber-down happened. Two fish on at the same time…a DOUBLE. We landed both…here’s the picture. I’m the guy with the Indiana Jones hat, a little seasoned, but hey, it joins me whenever casting. Worth the fifty years’ wait.

A third day fishing a different river with Ray Vermillion. I wished his drift boat were an ark. The rain came down, then the wind, rain coming sideways. No bobber downs, but being soaked was our reality. Then, about to finish, a tad…all right a big TAD—early, the bobber dipped, fish on! It was a beautiful “low-teener” steelhead, somewhere in the 14-pound range. Netted and released. What a three days.

Returned home to catch the joy of the BIGGEST FISH EVER.

Told Diane the same…it happened this morning. All about Jason. He’s gotten all the tubes removed, the trach opening has healed as has his stomach tube. Eating actual food, on a weight-gain diet [Ah, I commit the sin of envy…and can forgive myself, a pastoral privilege that comes with ordination!!!]. This morning it was the BIGGEST FISH…the picture below takes the cake, so to speak. Jason getting ready, with some help, of course, to take those steps into his future. THAT’S more important than river therapy, it really is. Thank you, God, for fish and guides and Washington rivers. But, even more thank you for Diane and Jason and YOUR HEALING PRESENCE. YES!!!!

A couple of pictures to illustrate the affirmations:

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Celebrate What’s Right In The World

Doug White and I go back 77 years. We lived within a block of one another near 26th and Holman in Portland. He and his wife, Kathy, live in Eugene. This afternoon, Sunday, March 11, 2018, Doug sent me a remarkable TED presentation by Dewitt Jones. I have just listened to it. No, that’s too pedantic. I have been inspired and ministered to by it. Incredible, causing laughter, tears, remorse, resolve, but more, to understand that the energy of love is passion and life brings fear and scarcity but also possibility. The choice is ours.

I share it now…without anything less than an invitation to help the lens by which I live, by which you live. This speech impacts with favor and warmth and such deep value. Give yourself a gift…Doug has gifted me and through him Dewitt Jones has blessed my life. Indeed that is happening. See how the dandelion becomes a puff-ball and the world rejoices. And how a five year old boy has a camera with “juice in it.”

Grace, peace and love to each of us,


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Got Plans For Next Sunday? Part 2

A personal update, then two quotes from very valued friends.

Jason has had dizziness, headaches and double-vision, determined by CT scan to be caused by spinal fluid that isn’t flowing correctly. Tomorrow, Thursday, the first day of March, he’ll have a stent put in to correct that problem. The neurosurgeon, Dr. Ashour, who literally saved his life on January 7 by removing the large hematoma from his cerebellum, will be the surgeon. As a friend wrote, “May the Light of the Holy Spirit shine upon all of you.” Yes!

One of the joys in writing blogs is to receive feedback, often with perspectives that are not cloned to mine—may that not ever be a goal!—but who make it clear we can be united without clinging to uniformity. The first response is from a Class of 1958 high school classmate, Dave Winterholler, with whom I’ll have a meal on Good Friday in Portland. Dave is a retired TWA pilot. His comment is so uplifting, for his church doesn’t take away the arms and legs of their members.

The second quote is from one of the most respected clergy colleagues, Dr. Jo Hudson, now serving a parish [that is never spelled perish] in Dallas. Jo gets it. Dave gets it. My thanks to both for their thoughts…

As you read, how’s your next Sunday looking?

From Dave:

Excellent Blog! I have been going to the same church for 45 years. I’ve seen it split two or three times. When I started we had a membership of about 250 and now we are down to around 100 members. I totally agree with you, it’s not about filling seats, it’s about serving our God and the people. I see we are doing more with fewer than we did with a church overflowing. For decades we were nothing more than a Baptist social club. Now we’re involved with the homeless, and our community. I have told many in my Bible study groups, ” have you ever read the Marque in front of our church?” It doesn’t say “Entertainment starts at 11:00 AM, do you notice the word, “Worship Service?” It’s not about how one preaches or the drums are to loud, as Rich Warren stated in his book “Purpose Driven Life,” it’s not about you! Once again well said, we need to remind our members every once in a while.
Bless My Friend
PS: He changed the world with just twelve

From Jo:

And we might consider two things. 1) Perhaps the absence of people in worship is that we have done our job well. People have learned how to worship and serve outside the walls of the church. 2) Perhaps our focus in worship could be more on true worship, the joy of being together, the mystery of being together in the presence of God, the spiritual filling up of those present for their hard journey in the world, the words of healing that so many people need. Perhaps we then stop worrying about what we are doing and how many of us there are. Just a few of my thoughts that you spurred on this beautiful Monday morning. Thanks, and as always to you, Diane, Jason, Jackson, Aiden and Noah, great, great love. —Jo

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How Do You Spend Your Sunday Morning?

I am not without thought, stronger than musing and much stronger than being quiet, muted and shedding a smile, which is better than shedding a tear. Although when the smile becomes a smirk, watch out. That’s self-judgment to be alert.

What is this? It’s about how we spend our Sunday morning. Now that I am not serving a church as their pastor, the focus shifts. I admit that. Of course, the focus is now upon the needs of both Diane and Jason. Yesterday, a Sunday, I went to worship, my pastor touched my shoulder, “Jason’s in my prayers.” That was all I needed, although again in the sermon I learned something. Love that when I learn, as if I ever doubted, that I have more to learn.

While I worshipped another “holy moment” happened. Jason’s sons, our grandsons, visited him. They hadn’t seen their father for over two months. At the age of 10 [twins Jackson and Aiden] and 6 [Noah] it was a worshipful moment, which means not choirs and organ music, but the precious smile of God that blessed them. Which reminded me, folks, prayers for Diane and Jason, but also for the three kiddoes.

Into all that as I walked my three four-legged kiddoes, I noticed how quiet the streets were, still morning. Still brisk in temperature, but a vacancy of folks that wasn’t alarming. I didn’t slam my judgement with why they weren’t in church. Not for a breath.

I know in my worship space there are less people, the choir seems to have become smaller, and someone remarked, “Church doesn’t bring people in any more.”

I used to fuss about that, I really did. I used to take that personally, they weren’t coming because my sermons weren’t relevant or helpful, except in a few cases, a cure for insomnia. That was wrong as I look at it now. Churches having fewer members isn’t the real concern. Tom Ehrich dealt with it, much better than I, so I share. For ALL of us, whether or not Sunday morning worship is as special as…you fill in the blanks.

To be direct, maybe even blunt, Sunday morning worship has a centering for many of us. I felt much better in my soul for worshipping yesterday. That’s not self-congratulations, that’s gratitude to God that in worship my soul is fed. It’s a spiritual thing. But, honestly, and no less, my soul is fed when I make sure my faith has arms and legs and a reaching-out to others countenance.

I’ll let Ehrich take it from here. Tom, you feed my soul, so this Monday will not be without purpose and value. Thank you:

“I think Jesus would say, Faith is never about Sunday-activity choices. Faith is about trusting in God, loving God, serving God, and serving humanity. Keeping a religious institution alive means little. Are the hungry being fed, the lonely wrapped in community, the outcast brought into the circle, the powerful and corrupt hearing God’s truth, the broken hearing hope?

Those are the measures. Not the ways religious spaces get used, but the ways God’s people serve and

transform a sinful and broken world.”

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Best Way To Live

Have often said that Miss Agnes Carter, my 8th grade teacher at Vernon Grade School in Portland, Oregon, was my best teacher, to know the difference of doing well and doing good, and 1,000 other ways to word the thoughts.

If I stop there, I am fully remiss. Read this linked story this morning on MSN.Com and immediately went—didn’t drift but zoomed—to Doug Meeks, my professor at Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, Missouri for my doctoral program. He is terrific, an ethicist, but so much more important in teaching how life’s values center not upon getting as much as you can [Might call it the Prosperity Gospel] that is hoarding, building a bigger barn. No, not for a breath. Rather, life’s values center upon generosity, upon giving. Doug put it succinctly, “The more you give, the more you grow.”

That’s not about how much you have or accumulate as it is about relationships. Doug planted seeds of living in me that continue to grow. Seldom need trimming. Have shared this before, if I can help someone be better in their self, I hardly ever hesitate.

An example. Over the years—yeah more than 50—I’ve met hospital receptionists, getting room numbers and the like. They are nice and clear. No problem. Then, I met Sherry. Sherry is the receptionist at Cornerstone Hospital where Jason has been healing. She has a fabulous personality, a great genuine smile. I think her middle name should be hyphenated: kind-caring. She is a spark. When I walk into the lobby she doesn’t hesitate her smile, “Howdy Rowdy!” Love it. It is less than rare anyone can come to Cornerstone Hospital and not feel the lift and encouragement of Sherry.

How about you? Can you name the “Sherry’s” in your life? How many can name you—which is more important in my lexicon—as their “Sherry”? For that’s what I believe—with fervency—to be generous, to be giving is more than growing. It brings vitality to the human journey…such a preference against holding an assault rifle. Yes?

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